When I started reading 'Human Traces' for the first fifty pages I was unsure it was going to appeal to me. Once the introductions to the two protagonists had been made and the author went on to describe their first meeting it was starting to work for me.
The first protagonist we meet is Jacques Rebiere, a farmers son from Brittany with an interest in science and a love for his mentally disturbed brother Olivier. Olivier is treated like an animal by the rest of his family, only Jacques seems to have any sympathy and an interest in the way his brothers brain works. With the local Cure Abbe Henri encouraging Jacques in his education he studies medicine and it is while holidaying with the Cure after successful examination results that he first meets Thomas Midwinter.
Thomas a young man from Lincolnshire, England also studying medicine is staying in the same boarding house in Deauville, France, with his sister Sonia and her husband, as Jacques and Henri. Despite initial language difficulties which the young men soon overcome, they find they share more than just medicine in common but both have a specific interest in psychiatry. A desire to learn more about how the human brain functions. As Thomas explains to Sonia he feels he has found a friend that although coming from a completely different background thinks in the same way as him. When they part at the end of the holiday they make a pact to remain friends and one day work together when they have finished their degrees.
What a complex and enjoyable novel this turned out to be. It took me so much longer than normal to read as I needed to really concentrate on the scientific information. It was no surprise to learn that Sebastian Faulks spent five years researching Victorian psychiatry before writing this novel. There was just so much information to take onboard, some of which is quite disturbing but important as we follow the life story of these two young men as it unfolds after their chance meeting. The drama of their lives is blended seamlessly with the ongoing exploration of the human mind.
It was absolutely fascinating and I would recommend it highly to any fan of Sebastian Faulks, he is a master storyteller. However be warned this is not a quick or light read and some of the descriptive passages are not for the faint hearted.